After months of speculation about her future, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Thursday she will not seek to lead House Democrats for another term but will remain in Congress.
The decision — capping a 35-year career in which Pelosi became the most powerful female member of Congress in US history — followed her party’s narrow loss of the chamber in last week’s midterm election.
Pelosi is also abiding by a 2018 agreement with fellow Democrats that she would step down from leadership by the end of 2022 to make way for a new generation.
“For me, the hour’s come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect,” Pelosi said in a House floor speech.
President Biden, who spoke to Pelosi on Thursday morning, later called her the “most consequential speaker of the House of Representatives in our history.”
“With her leading the way, you never worry about whether a bill will pass,” Biden said. “If she says she has the votes, she has the votes. Everytime.”
The nation’s first and only female House speaker, Pelosi is stepping aside despite the strong urging of many of her colleagues to remain.
She told a small group of reporters in an interview following her remarks that her phone had been “exploding” in recent days with members telling her she must run for leadership again.
Under Pelosi’s stewardship this year, House Democrats defied expectations that the party would suffer steep losses in the midterm. Instead, Republicans gained only a slim majority of the House.
“She will be one of the giants of American history,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.).
Had Pelosi wanted to remain as House minority leader, she likely could have, despite the 2018 agreement. But she said she feels “balanced” by her decision and not sad.
Though many Democrats had once voiced a desire for Pelosi, 82, to hand over the reins to a younger generation of lawmakers, her recent success in combating the Trump administration and then aiding the Biden administration won over many of her critics.
She said in the interview that if she could have done anything differently during her time in leadership, it would’ve been to win more elections to keep Republicans, including Trump, out of power.
Pelosi said last month’s attack on her husband, Paul, was a factor in her decision, though the incident strengthened her resolve to remain in Congress instead of having the opposite effect.
“I couldn’t give them that satisfaction,” Pelosi said.
The speaker’s husband was assaulted with a hammer by an intruder who broke into their San Francisco home aiming to hurt her, police said. She was in Washington at the time. He’s expected to face a long recovery.
She said she has survivor’s guilt and that the attack was traumatic for her entire family. “This happened in our house,” she said. “It made our home a crime scene.”
Democrats said her experience, knowledge and fundraising skills will continue to prove helpful, even if she is no longer in a leadership position.
“It’s going to take all of us working together to compensate for losing her from our leadership,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank). “And I’m sure she’s going to continue to be very active in helping our party and helping our caucus. It’s not like she’s vanishing from the Congress.”
But Pelosi downplayed any advisory role she might play, saying as leader she rarely asked for advice and won’t be disappointed if her successors don’t either.
Joking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, she said: “I have no intention of being the mother-in-law in the kitchen, saying: ‘My son doesn’t like the stuffing that way. This is the way we make it.’ [The new House Democratic leaders] will have their vision. They will have their plan, and I think that the authenticity of all of that will be respected.”
She said she would not serve on a committee and is reluctant to return to the time-consuming process of fundraising.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) said Democrats should move quickly to replace her.
“Whoever replaces her — and we have some great people who could step up to the plate — they’re going to have to start working out immediately so they’ll have the muscle and the energy to do what she’s done almost effortlessly,” Cleaver said.
“I’m not happy about it,” he said of Pelosi’s stepping down. “But like me, I think everyone — the speaker included — recognizes at some point we have a limited lifetime. And I think you give all you can and then you try to live out the rest of your life as conflict-free as you can, and nobody can blame her for leaving.”
The race to replace Pelosi had occurred quietly behind the scenes for months, but appeared to largely settle itself shortly after Pelosi’s announcement. House Democrats will hold their internal leadership elections on Nov. 30.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (DN.Y.) is favored to become the next Democratic leader.
At one point, Pelosi’s top lieutenants, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, 83, of Maryland and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, 82, of South Carolina, had expressed interest in succeeding her, but both said Thursday they would stand aside for new leadership.
“I will be supporting Jeffries for leader,” Clyburn said.
Pelosi said she has no plans to endorse a successor, saying it is important to their legitimacy that they win the post on their own.
“I don’t think it’s up to me to make that anointment, although I probably know better than anybody what that job requires,” she said.
Schiff reportedly had interest in becoming the top Democrat as well, but has decided to focus instead on a potential Senate campaign. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat is up in the 2024 cycle, though she hasn’t said whether she’ll retire at the end of her term. Schiff declined to comment on the report.
“It’s going to be very hard to replace her, to have that kind of leadership,” said retiring Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), who called Pelosi “probably the most outspoken and powerful woman in United States politics.”
The speaker’s gavel is likely to go next to Californian and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the front-runner to lead the chamber next year.
Pelosi said she won’t formally hand off the gavel to McCarthy, if he is elected, because that handoff is from leader to leader, and by then Democrats will have elected her successor.
On Wednesday, Republicans gained the minimum 218 seats needed for a majority. The next speaker will be decided when the new Congress convenes in January.
Pelosi has been called one of the most effective House speakers in history. She served as speaker under every US president since George W. Bush.
Pelosi muscled through the largest healthcare reform in generations, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which she considers her greatest achievement.
Passage of the Affordable Care Act “will be the biggest thing that I’ve ever done in Congress,” she said, “but the Inflation Reduction Act was very, very essential and satisfying to me.”
She led the impeachment of President Trump twice; kept her caucus united to pass massive, multitrillion-dollar legislation to stabilize the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic; and helped push through last year’s $1-trillion infrastructure package.
Born into a prominent Baltimore political family, Pelosi began her career as an elected official in 1987.
Pelosi was known in her early years in Congress as a fierce advocate for a strong government response to HIV/AIDS, a topic that at the time was either taboo or ignored, but was exceedingly important to gay constituents back home in San Francisco.
She was elected to leadership in 2001, beating out Hoyer of Maryland to become a minority whip. He remains her second in command. In 2003, she became minority leader, the highest-ranking position among House Democrats when they don’t hold a majority.
After Democrats took control of the chamber in 2006, Pelosi was selected as the first female speaker of the House in January 2007.
Republicans have long seized on Pelosi’s prominence, flooding the airwaves for years with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads deriding her as a “San Francisco liberal” and threatening that Democratic candidates would support her progressive politics.
In the San Francisco-based district, Pelosi consistently won reelection by large margins. She is one of the Democratic Party’s most prodigious fundraisers, raising $310 million for Democrats this cycle and $1.28 billion since entering leadership in 2002.
Pelosi’s ability to get under Republicans’ skin was never more apparent than during the four years of the Trump administration. She gained a new generation of fans for her ability to rattle Trump.
Pelosi made history when she presided over the 2019 and 2021 impeachments of Trump, becoming the first speaker to preside over two impeachments.
Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.